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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Big Bearded Guy on Baking Bread - Take 2 - SNIP

Yesterday, I wasn't, but today I am! When it comes to what I like, I am the judge, jury and executioner! Life is too short to drink bad wine and eat bad bread my friends, so I advise you to scrutinize and discriminate the items you would put in your mouth and assault your taste buds and nutrition. Today my friends lets try to take another look at the staff of life- Bread!

Bread in one form or another has been a staple in many cultures around the globe, in some having substantially more relevance than a simple food. Christians around the globe see bread as an element of the Eucharist, a sacramental bread.  The word companion comes from the Latin words com - "with" + panis "bread". The term "bread" has commonly come to mean "necessities in general" as well as synonym for money (also dough) in much of the English speaking world. The idea of bread as a necessity also transcends slang and continues to be part of our language by serving as a metaphor for basic needs and living conditions. "Bread-winner" and "Put bread on the table" refer to an economic contributor. "Greatest thing since sliced bread!" - refers to innovation. Breadbasket - refers to an agriculturally productive region. "Peace, Land, Bread!"- Lenin's promise to the Bolsheviks in 1917. In Slavic cultures bread and salt is offered as a welcome to all guests. In India, life's basic necessities are often referred to as "roti, kapra aur makan" [bread, cloth and house].

Although I do enjoy pancakes, waffles and muffins, my idea of bread is not some batter that has been loaded with acids and bases to get it to foam up at the right time and temperature to generate some loft in the dough/batter to simulate a good crumb. To me bread is a of living thing! (No! Not after it gets moldy!)  Like a good beer, it is made by active yeasts, feasting on sugars available in the dough, either naturally occurring in the flour, or added as a separate ingredient. They breathe in and expel carbon dioxide and a bit of alcohol, which gives the dough a very characteristic musty aroma. The dough must be carefully handled. It must not be kept too hot or too cool. It must not be too damp nor too dry. The same applies to the finished loaf.

Great breads come in wondrous varieties of shapes and sizes, each devoted yet not limited to a specific task or end product. Boules (French for ball), baguettes, pan loaves and braids, rolls, knots. Great bread is the gateway to fine pastry. By a specific process of adding butter to a simple dough and folding the assemblage over and over we develop what bakers know as "Puff Pastry".  Puff pastry, rolled out, cut into triangles which are rerolled into a crescent shape and baked is how we create Croissants.

Great bread should have a delicate, flaky, crisp crust with or without accessorizing toppings such as caraway, poppy sesame or sunflower seeds or coarse salt. The crumb or center part of the bread should be soft, light and airy to sop up juices and hold onto spreadable condiments like butters or jelly, yet it must be firm enough to do so without breaking. It should be somewhat spongy, readily bouncing back after modest compression.

A good loaf of bread (if it can avoid being eaten) should be able to last a week without special treatment or handling. Early in the week it is good by its self or used in sandwiches. Later in the week as it becomes more dried out, it should make wonderful toasts. Finally, at the end of its seven day life, the remainder of the loaf may be diced, and used in bread pudding or mixed with butter and seasonings then toasted into croĆ»tons for soups or salads. 
So here are some of the things that I have learned over the years, trying to perfect my own loaf of bread;

  • Use a scale instead of measuring cups.
  • Use high gluten flour. Because of its higher protein content, this flour will result in chewy bread without making it dense as well as a thin, crispy crust. The lower the protein content, the thicker the crust.
  • Don’t leave out the salt. Salt retards yeast activity, leaving more sugar available to caramelize (brown) the crust.
  • Be Patient! If you’re not, learn to be fast… Like any other fermented food, bread dough needs sufficient time to mature before the full flavor and texture properties reach their peak.
  • Make sure your oven is accurate. Use an oven thermometer! Yes, even with your new fangled high-end fancy designer “Professional” series/ style oven.
  • Shaping is an art. No one gets it right the first or second time. If you did, Hoorah for you! It was blind dumb luck!
  • Use a baking or pizza stone to help disperse the heat evenly.
  • Steam in the oven is critical to making a crusty loaf of bread  for only the first 5 to 10 minutes. Throw a couple of ice cubes into a preheated cast iron pan in the bottom of the oven to create steam.
  • Bread made on a rainy day is better than bread made on a sunny day.
  • When removing bread from the oven, avoid the temptation to rip off a piece and taste it right away. Hot dough is bad for the digestion and the bread has not yet peaked in its flavor development. Let the bread rest at least an hour before sampling.
  • Finally, make your bread to suit your self. Make what YOU know tastes good, not what a fad twisted whiny public wants, not what the Bread-Bully critic wants. 
Break bread with someone you love today.

About the deleted post...

Mea culpa!

Mea culpa!

The previous post "Big Bearded Guy on Baking Bread" has been deleted. It apparently offended various familial sensibilities in regard to how to deal with professional criticism and frankly stated personal tastes and opinion. Never once was a product ridiculed, labeled or maligned, nor was any ever intended. I believe in journalistic integrity and personally hold the belief that "Honesty is the best policy". The original intent of the article was only to cover my personal ideas of what makes a good loaf of yeast bread and tips on how that may be attained by the home baker.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and as such I hope my falling upon my own sword appeases and pleases the people who were most offended by this trivial bit of literary fluff.

The Management.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm Intolerant of Intolerance!

The past two weeks have been very busy here. One of the things I have been doing is attempting to help the good Queen Carbonara- High Priestess of the Burnt Fond, come up with some treat recipes that will be most widely received by patrons at a local craft show.
During this process, my eldest son and daughter unknowingly provided the impetus for this entry. They suggested that the Queen also provide products that can be enjoyed by people who are gluten and lactose intolerant. Hmmmm….. Now my sons point of view is that his significant other is diagnosed with lactose intolerance (LI). My daughter, claims to be somewhat LI, but has never been formally or professionally diagnosed to my knowledge. Both know people whom are gluten intolerant (GI).

What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is milk sugar that cannot enter the bloodstream directly from the digestive tract. It must be broken down in the small intestine by an enzyme called lactase to form glucose and galactose before it can enter the bloodstream.  If you do not have enough lactase and thus the lactose is not digested properly, the undigested milk sugar moves into the large intestine, where bacteria that live in your digestive tract consume it. There, the lactose can cause your gastrointestinal tract problems. It can pull water from the bloodstream into the gut and cause diarrhea. As the bacteria digest the lactose, they produce acids and gas that can cause bloating, cramping and flatulence.

What is Gluten Intolerance?
Undigested gluten proteins (the proteins in wheat flour and other grains that make yeast breads so elastic and delicious) hang out in your intestines and are treated by your body like a foreign invader, irritating your gut and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. (By the way, WHY are those proteins undigested? Is anybody looking into that?) Without those microvilli, you have considerably less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from your food. This leads sufferers to experience symptoms of malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression, and more.

So that we are clear, these are not food allergies. In the case of LI it is improper digestion due to a lack of naturally occurring enzymes. In the case of GI, It is a genetically carried autoimmune disorder.

Researchers from the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and their colleagues found that the incidence of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974 in a population sample. Blood samples from more than 3,500 adults showed that the number of people with blood markers for celiac disease rose from one in 501 in 1974 to one in 219 in 1989, according to the study.

So, with that said, I acknowledge that there are food intolerances. However, we also find more people announcing that they have a gluten or lactose intolerance, despite not being tested by physicians and having a “real” diagnosis! Sorry, but I imagine all of these cultist wanna be vegans, giving up meat products only to discover they can’t eat grains! Then they discover they are intolerant to flours and grains! Or worse, while on their grain diet, they discover that they have bulked up on high purine food stuffs and develop gout...   Perhaps a new cult of starvationists will emerge and wipe themselves out before our very eyes. I wonder how many people truly suffer with this disability (I’m sure it is a real number) versus people who have a warped understanding of what the issues really are and are merely sacrificing their own health for some perceived philosophical nonsense. For example, someone who is “LI” may not drink milk, yet they stomp their foot and claim they also have problems with butter and hard cheeses. Most hard cheeses do NOT contain lactose, nor does butter (only milk fats)! So perhaps they have a milk fat issue and not lactose. Perhaps even more interesting is why these intolerances are on the rise.

Please pass the Roquefort, Gouda or Chevre...    Oh goody! More for me!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The two things in life that are certain. Death and taxes. I do not want this blog site to morph into one of the millions of sites that only see the fanatical left wing, right wing or undistinguished and uninspired moderate views.

My personal political bent aside, I understand the need for taxes. It's bad enough that our some of our food prices are affected by futures speculation on Wall Street, but now Uncle Sam wants to put the bite on me again as well?  In my opinion, taxing food is WRONG! Taxing food is a method for the government to insert its self into your daily life at an unprecedented level of intimacy.
"What about tax on booze?" you say. Alcoholic beverages are not essential to life, but they do provide simple pleasures to countless responsible adults. A sin tax on alcohol,  is an attempt to economically limit consumption of a product, hopefully thus preventing irresponsible imbibers from getting too much, while at the same time providing funding for alcoholic treatment and recovery programs (HA! What they get after the politicians are through with it is laughable!)

Now I'm not saying that all taxes are bad. We NEED some taxes! Money is needed for the maintenance, operation and defense of our nation. I want good, safe roads, quality public schools, mosquito abatement and impenetrable national borders. I am willing to pay my fair share, but in a time when our country is experiencing 11%  unemployment (while some states are enjoying as much as 15%) and the government, at multiple levels (City, county, state, national) mind you, is showing its ineptitude with finances, I don't want to see taxes or increase in taxes on my food, water or medications. Mrs. Obama has a wonderful concern for everyones children. That's just dandy! But if my children are obese (by the way, they're not, thank God!), it's my concern and not yours! So now to battle the institution of the Family, the government, in it's infinite wisdom, wants to tax sweet and fizzy drinks (Please check out this really great web site!). What a joke! How will taxing my Diet Caffeine Free Dr. Pepper help stop obesity? Yes, 0 (zero) calorie soda is just as much a target of these bureaucratic idiots as a can of Jolt (All the Sugar, Twice the Caffeine!). But wait! The madness doesn't stop there! Milk, flavored milk and juices are also targeted by this nonsense. What about soda-pop used for medicinal purposes? In our house, we generally keep a bottle of Ginger ale handy for helping combating upset stomachs and nausea. Hospital nursing staff will give cold caffeinated beverages to people coming out of epidural anesthesia as it helps ward off the affects of a "Spinal" headache by providing hydration to try to increase cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) pressure. The caffeine makes blood vessels get smaller, also helping increase CSF pressure.

Obesity is a problem in our country for us and our children, but instead of beating people over the head with more taxes, how about getting them to be more active and burn those calories as opposed to playing video games? Remember all of the budget cuts that have been made in recent years? In the Chicago area they cut urban basketball facilities, and many extracurricular athletic programs. Attention! These are the activities you want to promote! Walking! Biking! Swimming! Soccer! Well Duh! Yet the fat cat pigs, feed at the trough on bloated salaries. Me thinks its time to take some to the slaughter house this coming election day... I'ze do believe it's Hog Boilin' time!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oh Beer! The eyes of Texas are upon ye!

Thanks to my #1 son for bringing this to our attention!

The Digital Journal reports;
Phot courtesy of The UK Telegraph.

A Texas man has found a way to combine grease and beer by creating deep-fried beer. The food will be unveiled at the Texas State Fair later this month.

Pockets of pretzel-like dough are filled with beer and then deep-fried for about 20 seconds. Because the cooking time is so short the beer remains alcoholic.

Mark Zable said he spent three years working on the cooking method. His first creations exploded when they hit the hot oil. He has now trademarked the name "fried beer" and a patent for the process is pending.

“Nobody has been able to fry a liquid before,” The Telegraph quoted Zable as saying. “It tastes like you took a bite of hot pretzel dough and then took a drink of beer."

Zable has been using Guinness but is considering switching to a pale ale.

The food will be officially unveiled at the Annual Big Tex Choice Awards competition at the Texas state fair this month. The Texas Alcoholic Commission has ruled that people must be over 21 years of age to buy it. Those who are younger can try fried lemonade.

The finalists for this year are fried club salad, deep fried S’mores Pop Tart, fried caviar, fried potato pie, deep fried frozen margarita, fried lemonade, fried beer and fried chocolate.

The winning dish in last year's competition was deep-fried butter.

Read more:

On a brief side note, this years competition was actually won by a Deep Fried Frito Pie.

From another source, I have read that this fry vat Frankenstien was developed out of the laziness of it's creator, so that he need not get a drink as he is eating a hot pretzel. I'm not sure this will help the dish go down in the annals of culinary history, nor cast other hard working Texans in a favorable light, but c'mon Mr. Zable! Let's at least get a better story...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Have you been trapped into buying a pig in a poke?

The following article, was forwarded to me by one of our loyal subscribers (Many thanks!) Dr. Al Sears runs a news letter called Doctor's House Call.

Al Sears, MD
11903 Southern Blvd., Ste. 208
Royal Palm Beach, FL 33411
September 16, 2010

Dear Jim,
You may have seen pork marketed as “the other white meat.” Many cuts of modern pork are indeed quite white and getting lighter all the time. Yet the cuts of pork from the farms around where I grew up varied from pink to reddish brown.
Today’s pork is also a lot drier and less flavorful than my grandfather’s pork. The pigs are a lot different, too. Gone are the fat-laden huge hogs that weighed two thousand pounds. These days, the industry equates leaner with better. But with all this dramatic change, do we really know how healthy these new products are?
Today, we’ll look at the incredibly rapid evolution of the modern pig. We’ll try to rediscover our natural roots in this growing technological experiment with your health. And, maybe we can find a way to still enjoy an old-style juicy pork chop.
Bringing Home the Bacon…
My Friend FL hunts wild pig in Northern Florida. He always invites me to his pig roasts, and I usually go. If you’ve ever gone to a wild pig roast, you know the meat bears little resemblance to store-bought cuts. The meat is fairly lean and brown. It has a firmer consistency. And, it has a juicy, “gamey” flavor. A good boar weighs in at about 125 pounds and is about 8-10% fat. This meat is probably very close to meat that we’ve eaten for millions of years.
Even after its domestication in Asia about 10,000 years ago, the feral pig changed very little for the next 9,900 years. During the 20th century, Western farmers began aggressively breeding pigs for the highest lard content. By the 1950s mature hogs weighed in at over 2,000 pounds with 50% body fat.
This selective breeding, altered environment, and altered diet of the pig produced a fundamentally different meat no longer natural to our diet. The result contributed to the huge modern epidemic of heart disease in the West.
Now in just the past 25 years, lean meat has become more valuable than fatty meat. With more capable biotechnology, the industry can alter products more dramatically and much faster. Today’s commodity pig weighs only 250 pounds. With only 2% body fat, they’re leaner than today’s supermodels or our best athletes.
This drastic change in animal husbandry has mostly gone unnoticed. Like so many other examples of food technology, no one asks you if you want to participate in an experiment to change your food. I’m OK with “buyer beware.” But how do you choose if you’re not informed of new changes?
Since our meat has recently had an unnatural high fat content and the wrong kind of fat, leaner meat is mostly good for you. But the new breeds of pigs have been engineered with some disturbing flaws.
The pigs are anxious and sensitive to a degree never seen in nature. At times, these pigs unexpectedly drop dead. Scientists have recently identified a gene unknowingly engineered into the new breeds’ DNA now known to cause “porcine stress syndrome.”
These bioengineered descendents of pigs live in air-conditioned pens of up to 5,000 individuals in exceedingly crowded conditions. The pigs are dependent on antibiotics added to their feed. Huge amounts of pesticides help grow their feed. They add salt and phosphate to the meat to compensate for the lack of juices and flavor. How could anyone know what consuming this new product will do to your long-term health?
Rediscover the Other Red Meat…
With all the interest in a tastier pork chop, some companies are going back to traditional breeds that have darker meat and a little more fat. Not only is organic pork more humane, it’s better for you. The more you know about typical modern pork, the less appeal it has.
Slightly more fat means that farmers don’t have to inject pigs to add moisture. Many of these firms are raising their pigs in smaller groups with access to sunlight and pasture. The best is organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and pasture raised. We have investigated natural sources for you. You can find the same natural sources I use for my family under the “Health Resources" section of our website.
To enjoy moist, tender pork, try braising in the oven. This will keep it from drying out. You can also pan-fry a pork medallion with a bit of olive oil. A few minutes before it’s done, add some water and chicken broth. For richness and texture, add a bit of cream.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD

News letter content ends.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

If it's Wednesday- it must be Pasta?

Go ahead… Google the words “National food holiday” (No, not this second!)  and you will find list upon list citing various food celebrations for every day of the year! No, we’re not talking about renaming Thanksgiving as National Turkey Day but daily observances that are held in honor of a certain food.

The way it works is, the President of the United States has the authority to declare a commemorative event or day by proclamation. In an average year, about 150 are granted. Petitions are introduced by trade associations, public relations firms and citizens in order to honor hobbies, professions, events, industries and the like.  At a local level, State legislatures, Governors and Mayors may proclaim special observance days which are why there can be a National Chocolate Day and American Chocolate Week New Jersey, authorized at different levels of government. Once the observance day is authorized, it is the petitioner’s job to promote it. 

It's a fun way to pass a few moments of time, looking up your birthday (I'm on National Oatmeal Day) or that of you spouse or kids (my youngest, who LOVES spicy foods, was born on National Nachos Day) to see if you discover some mystical connection between their likes and tastes versus the food ordained to be celebrated on that particular day. I was personally disappointed to learn that there has yet been a day appointed nationally to celebrate the Scots Haggis and so it is destined to remain hidden on this numerology game-board, yet greatly relieved that there is no National Day of Appreciation for a Durian

These calendars can be useful if you are drawing a blank as to what to make for tonight’s dinner or next month’s dinner party. It may however, be a confounding annoyance if you try to use it as a guide to seasonal local produce, to create more seasonal menus. For example, no dessert screams “Hello Summer!” like juicy, vine ripened strawberries and the growing season only lasts 3 to 4 weeks. Most of North America gets its Strawberry crops in between late May through early August. National Strawberry Day is February 27th (Not to be confused with California Strawberry Day, March 21st) while May is National Strawberry Month.  Only Florida and California enjoy sizable early crops of Strawberries, so all of you locavores beware!